On Not Speaking of Palestine

Feb 2013

English | اردو

What shocked me was something I had not anticipated: the latent and sometimes overt hostility to Palestine solidarity and sympathy for Zionist propaganda.

In 2009, I moved to Lahore for a year. It was my first visit ever to Pakistan, and to the city where my father was born, and from where my parents’ families were uprooted in 1947. Growing up in India, I had a dim awareness that we were originally from somewhere else—a distant place called Lahore that was by all accounts wondrous—and a dimmer sense that we were refugees. I had an even vaguer understanding, growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, of the upheavals in West Asia or of the mass expulsions of Palestinians due to the Nakba (catastrophe) and the creation of Israel in 1948. But, I remember seeing a famous photo of Yasser Arafat embracing Indira Gandhi—it was apparent to me at the time that the PLO leader was a nationalist icon who had something to do with anticolonial struggle and Third World solidarity, and that this was a part of my own history.

During the second Intifada, which began in September 2000, I was living and teaching in the Sunaina MairaU.S. As reports trickled out of Palestine about the atrocities committed by the Israeli military against the occupied Palestinians, I became increasingly incensed at the exceptional impunity of the Israeli state, backed by the U.S., and frustrated by the censorship in the U.S. mainstream media.

In 2004, I visited Palestine for the first time, traveling across the West Bank to see for myself what life in Palestine was like. I had been prepared, by books and documentary films, to see the giant prison-structure of the Apartheid Wall and military checkpoints, the struggles of people trying to travel to school or work through roads designated for non-Jews, the crowded refugee camps, and the rows of gleaming Jewish settlement homes on mountaintops. I knew about the colonial architecture of the occupation, even if I was shocked and moved by what I saw. But, what I had not anticipated was the closeness I felt to the Palestinian people.

Most of the talks I had heard about visits to Palestine were by (generally white) American solidarity activists, so it was a revelation to me that Palestine was also a place on the cultural map that was so close to South Asia. There was the everyday familiarity of the generous hospitality and warm sociality but also of the spirit of anticolonial and antiracist politics, the weight of impoverishment and exclusion, and the misery and humiliation of colonial racism. Read on >>

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7 Responses to On Not Speaking of Palestine

  1. […] our conversation series, we discuss the relevance of Palestine to the Pakistani left. Sunaina Maira discusses the Pakistan liberal antipathy to Palestine. Magid Shihade draws comparisons between his home, […]

  2. Sarah Schulman on Feb 2013 at 9:16 AM

    Thank you for this informative piece.

  3. […] […] I have come to realize that the issue of Palestine has a much broader significance for left politics in Pakistan, and more generally, for anti-imperial politics, globally. Palestine often becomes a convenient rhetorical tool in Pakistan, as elsewhere in Muslim societies and the Arab world, to unify disaffected masses by those voices—religious as well as secular–who do not always themselves engage in real struggle for the rights of people in Swat, Sindh, or Balochistan, or in anti-imperial politics more generally. The absence of a radical, left anti-imperial critique in the current moment makes it even more difficult to speak of Palestine in a society in which this critique has been marginalized and stamped out so that distinguished left Pakistani activists can openly support U.S. imperialism’s bloody yet “smart” wars. The racialized specter of the “Muslim terrorist” haunts us in every corner, from Gaza to Rawalpindi, and those who wish to distance themselves from it run so far in the opposite direction they fall off the cliff of Orientalism, succumbing to stereotypes of their own culture as inherently barbaric and in need of the West’s “humanitarian” wars. (Sunaina Maira) More here. […]

  4. karachikhatmal on Mar 2013 at 7:11 AM

    I’m sorry but this was quite an insulting piece, primarily because the main thrust of your argument – articles and comments by intellectuals – have not been provided anywhere as evidence of your rather preposterous claim.

    I’m going to leave aside arguing for the legitimacy of the debate over whether the Palestine issue is relevant or not. What I would say is that for the past six months, every time I go to work to teach at a government university there is a flag of Israel painted on the road there which I drive over. Such flags are present in many university campuses in Pakistan, meant to be walked over. While not condoning this act, its a pretty good barometer of how anti-Israeli sentiment is widespread, if not very well articulated or intellectually expressed.

    Moreover, for the past five/six years most of the political class as well as a sizeable part of the population have refused to acknowledge what has been a civil war in our country being carried out by many of our own citizens because they claim its all being carried out by Zionists/Mossad etc. Just one example of how an Israeli obsession has allowed many important issues to be sidelined.

    Really don’t understand what your experience has been like, but am staggered to hear of it.

  5. amna on Jul 2014 at 2:02 PM

    Hostility towards the Palestinian movement is a recent phenomenon in the Pakistani landscape.
    Two reasons :
    One apathy of our people, so some don’t want to open their eyes! They are simply not interested to investigate, so when they find others speaking out for a just cause and find themselves under moral obligation to take a stand they are quick to admonish the victims themself! for eg i have heard things as strange as “the palestinians called it upon themselves”…like they are not good people…… I countered them my reminding them what if their neighbors had committed such war crimes would we be bad people too then!

    The second reason of a recent change in dogma, is the Pakistan Army apologists. They need to justify the deaths being caused by offensives carries out with the consent of pakistan army and on american dictates within the region. I once had a talk with a then serving high ranking army official with whom my extended family was having dinner, with the intention ofcourse to creating awareness about the Palestinian issue in my extended family, his line astonishingly was that Israel is only defending itself…. I didn’t know much back then but now I know how else could they have justified all the dead civilians in drone strikes, f16 strikes and ground offensives within Pakistan. Pakistan army needs a change in leadership one that wouldn’t take dollars to kill.

    • amna on Jul 2014 at 2:26 PM

      Although I would like to add that many people now are acquiring awareness….. Now many people apart from Pakistan Army apologists have a genuine feel of the Palestinian pain…. Better than the pro Israeli high ranking Pakistan Army official I previously mentioned…
      BTW that army official has a son who when I was advocating for the Palestinian cause quite dumbly interrupted and said you talk like you care about the Palestinians a lot, what have you done ever for them, he sneered and sarcastically added I once added a vigil, and instructed me to shut up! He also added that why don’t you do anything about our people here, back then there was not much known about drones and state military oppression. Strangely when issues relating to Pakistan came in full vision that army officials son was still as apathetic about his fellow citizens.

      The lesson to learn here is that after attending a protest or a vigil remember the important thing yet remains, which is to create awareness, raise your voice, if u are unable to do that please kindly quit acting like a hypocrite in the vigil.

  6. […] solidarity with the Palestinians. These protests are especially welcome given the dismaying hesitation among some quarters of the Pakistani urban classes to support the Palestinian […]

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